Network (National Theatre)

Considering I was already unbearably excited about this when it was announced waaaaaay back when, levels of anticipation had reached almost intolerable levels by the time I finally got round to seeing arguable the London Theatre event of the year.

Bryan Cranston’s London theatrical debut sold out in moments when tickets were released back in early 2017, and it’s not hard to see why – Cranston is a Hollywood A-lister, arguably currently at the absolute peak of his powers and so to have him, on our national theatre’s stage is pretty exciting. Add to that heady mix direction from Ivan van Hove, probably the slickest theatre director working in the world today, and the result is predictably irresistible.

Van Hove’s decision to use the right third of the stage as a restaurant with audience enjoying a meal in the throng is a bold choice and has been criticised in some circles for being a bit distracting, but after the first few scenes where the eye is drawn to the eating audience members out of novelty it seems perfectly natural, and in fact necessary to creat a world outside of the studio setting that dominates the rest of the Lyttelton stage.

Impeccable and imaginative use of myriad monitors and tv screens means you really could watch this play 100 times in 100 different ways and find something original each time – there is so much going on. Michelle Dockery, of Downton fame, adds ballsiness in spades to her man-hungry/power-hungry/ratings-hungry up-and-coming executive hell bent on exploiting Cranston and Howard Beale’s emotional breakdown-cum-accidental ratings smash.

Some actors take to this bizarre new medium of TV/stage acting better than others – but Bryan Cranston is at his mesmeric best when dancing the fine line between playing to the live audience and the camera pushed in his face. His pain is our pain, and his anger ours too. It was a pleasure from beginning to end.

5/5

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